Car Camping in the Combat Zone
Who in his right mind would go camping solo in the Bootheel?

Net Positive
New sustainability director Nick Sussillo

The Great Wasp War
The call went out to the lads of Silver City: This means war!

Pay to Play
The fledgling Las Cruces Vaqueros' field of dreams

Kiss of the Prairie Dog
Black-tailed prairie dogs once numbered in the billions

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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   July 2010

The Great Wasp War

In 1954 (or thereabouts), the call went out to the lads of Silver City: This means war!

By Phillip Parotti

Editor's note: Fans of Phillip "Pep" Parotti's occasional, er, embellished reminiscences of growing up in Silver City are in luck. Last seen in "Rollo and the Mountain of Doom" (April 2009), Pep and his pals here return at a somewhat more tender age — vulnerable to the depredations of villainous wasps. Previous Parotti yarns may be found in our issues of March 2007 ("Diamond in the Rough"), September 2007 ("Some Memories of Mildred's"), May 2008 ("Brick and Mortar Memories") and January 2009 ("Salsa Days"), all available on our Web site at www.desertexposure.com

About the time that I entered the fifth grade, Silver City experienced an unparalleled ecological disaster that, in all probability, it knew nothing about. To be perfectly truthful, I doubt that ecology was much mentioned in those days, and in the fifth grade, for the boys at least, the word had not yet entered our vocabulary. The word conservation was in our vocabulary, and every able male who belonged to the Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts knew exactly what it meant. Conservation meant that every time one went on a hike — nearly every boy in Silver City went on a hike every Saturday morning — one was required to do two things: (1) build a check-dam before coming home, so as to help the town prevent another devastating flood and (2) "Do your best" (applying the old Cub Scout motto) to avoid setting the Gila National Forest on fire. Generally, we managed to accomplish both and returned home from those expeditions greatly satisfied with ourselves for having built a proper check-dam and for having avoided a major conflagration. Additional self-congratulation was forthcoming for having annihilated an immense number of imaginary Nazis who had threatened to ambush us along the way. Boy, those were the days!

You may envision, then, our consternation, our fury, our sense of absolute outrage when Dirty Dan (no boy in the fifth or sixth grade would ever insult another by using the name his parents had given him) returned to school one Monday morning with a knot on the side of his forehead that approximated a goose egg. Who, we wanted to know, had done it to him; we were somewhat worried that he might have experienced a run-in with one of those big seventh graders at St. Mary's Academy, in which case we might be called upon to take collective action.

The perpetrator, we discovered, was no seven-foot bully from another school but, rather, a nefarious yellowjacket that had ambushed Dirty Dan, just like the Gestapo, treacherously and without warning, from its rocky bunker in front of Light Hall. Oh, the perfidy of such an attack! Right there on our own campus, not one hundred yards from our own school! It was a day of infamy! Our denunciations knew no bounds, and on the instant, we declared total and unremitting war. This may explain why, at four o'clock that afternoon, rather than heading home for an after-school snack and a game of football, every boy in the Training School's fifth and sixth grade class, Miss Schulte's class, was lined up on College Avenue, throwing rocks and fistfuls of gravel at a tiny crevice in the rock wall out in front of Light Hall.

Boy, was that ever a mistake! Our problem was that, while we showed no lack of willingness to engage, our troops were as yet green, utterly untested, wholly untrained, with the painful result that our opening battle with the yellowjackets produced something like the lamentable outcome of the Battle at Kasserine Pass. That is, we were put to flight by a swarming horde of wasps, most of them undoubtedly bred by real Nazis and transported to Silver City for the sole purpose of bedeviling us.

We had done damage, you will understand. At least two of those wasps had been squashed dead in their tracks by well-thrown rocks, but the other 15 or 30 had experienced no trouble in penetrating our lines and driving us into terrified retreat. One or two of our company, the un-stung generals from the sixth grade who had directed our engagement — from a distance — urged us to counterattack at once. Those of us who had met the enemy, those of us who had actually seen the elephant, preferred to regroup, rethink our tactics, and reequip with more effective weaponry. We limped home then, resolved to redeploy on the following afternoon, armed and ready to show those wasps no mercy.

On Tuesday morning, almost immediately, we ran into an unexpected problem, a problem that immediately forced us to reconsider our objectives. The problem presented itself to us in the form of "the authorities" — the authorities being Miss Schulte and unknown persons from on high. Someone from Light Hall had called to complain. The presence of fifth- and sixth-grade boys, running amok, screaming their heads off while being relentlessly stung by wasps, was not thought conducive to the various learning experiences supposed to be going on in the classrooms of Light Hall. Rocks — some of them as large as baseballs — bouncing from the wall and ricocheting onto parked cars were not thought to contribute to good order and discipline.

"What parked cars?" we wanted to know. We hadn't noticed any.

"Never mind," Miss Schulte said sternly. "You will not do it again. Good citizens do not throw rocks on city streets. Am I understood?"

We got the message, and it was more than underscored when Misty, Muffy, Buffy, Shelly Cream and Ethel Pure wiggled with pleasure and snickered with delight over our dressing down.

Meanwhile, Chilly Mac nursed the sting over his right eye while Mouse the Leper and Touche kept asking for permission to go to the restroom, where they could apply wet paper towels to the smarting knots on the backs of their necks. It was all very disheartening, the unfair restrictions placed upon us along with the excruciating pain some of us were having to endure. Couple that with the fact that the enemy had gotten away with it — no effective revenge for the dastardly sneak attacks had yet been taken or realized. At recess, we held a council of war.

Billy, our leading sixth-grade general and self-appointed Commander-in-Chief, he who had commanded from afar and therefore remained un-stung, immediately submitted his plan.

"We can attack on Saturday," he said, "when nobody's around. We're not in school on Saturdays, and neither is the college, so they" — they, meaning the authorities — "can't do anything to us."

"Yeah," said Ace, Billy's toady, his second-in-command.

"We can't," said one of the Twins. "We're going fishing on Saturday, at Wall Lake."

"Yeah," said the other Twin, "we're going fishing on Saturday."

"That's OK," Billy said quickly, "you'll be here for the practices."

"What practices?" we all wanted to know.

"This afternoon, four o'clock sharp, right after P.E. Down in the Ditch."

"Oh, yeah," we all said.

The minute Billy mentioned the Ditch, everything became clear. In those days, no self-respecting boy went anywhere in Silver City without incorporating some length of the Big Ditch into his route. In my case, for example, when friends and I were ready to head for the Saturday afternoon Western at the Silco Theater, we automatically started from my house at the corner of 13th and West, dropped immediately into the Ditch, negotiated our way through the culverts underneath the 12th Street bridge, moved on down toward town, climbed out at the Pope Street bridge, and then made a beeline up Texas, where we could scale the rocks on the west side of the hill between College Avenue and 8th Street. Then, and only then, did we feel free to press on toward the movie.

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